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Alex: Street art

September 15, 2011

I spent a large portion of my spring break hunting down the best of Auckland city’s street art.

Spring break here in New Zealand began on the third of September. By that time, most of my classmates and peers had made plans to travel, many of the them to the South Island, some to Australia, and others to pacific sites like Fiji. At this time, I had just received my financial aid package, so I had not had money with which to plan a vacation, and I was not in the mood to spend twice as much money booking last minute. I had hoped that this time would allow me to do much of the research for which I came to Aotearoa. So I decided that I would take advantage of my urban surroundings and go looking for man-made beauty.

I have had a fascination with street art for some time. As an adolescent it was just about the thrill and the danger, the possibility of getting caught. Growing up in a town of thirty thousand suburban (by which I mean white, middle class) people, I had little exposure to the art and craft that can be present in good street art. Living in Minneapolis, along with the media’s recent fascination with street art, opened my eyes to this underground art form. My fascination with taboo art forms could be not only a whole post, but perhaps a book unto itself. So in order to fill my time, find some art, and sate my insatiable need to walk, I devoted at least two hours almost every day over the last two weeks to comb the streets of Auckland for art.

I have learned quite a bit from this experience, primarily regarding the placement of street art. There is a delicate balance to be struck between visibility and surreptitiousness. Like any artist, graffiti artist want there art to be seen, but they prefer not be seen by the proper owners of the building or the always-understanding-of-artistic-expression police. So choosing a street is a matter of choosing one that is busy enough that enough people will see your work to warrant your time, but not so busy that it is regularly patrolled. One can easily tell which streets these are, because once one artist finds the balance, word travels fast, and soon the street is covered. Karangahape road (k’road), which is a fairly busy street just up the hill at the terminus of a few different main streets, is a prime example of this. It is covered in street art. From huge murals to simple tags and everything in between, it is fully decorated.

It also seems that either the laws on graffiti are different here, or the police are simply more understanding. More than once I saw street art being painted in broad daylight, albeit often rather nervously. I also found pro-police street art, presumably either painted or commissioned by the police themselves, which leads me to believe they are not so vehemently opposed to graffiti as American police. Also reinforcing this idea are the electrical boxes on the streets. I have seen only a handful of unpainted electrical boxes in all of Auckland. Since these are directly on the street in broad view, I presume they were not painted surreptitiously.

There is also a protocol as to which walls on which one paints. You will never, for example see street art on marble walls. There seems to be a tacit code which stipulates that only those walls which are drab or ugly should be painted. Street artists generally seek to add beauty, not detract from it.

So although I didn’t travel and I didn’t do much research, this was a productive and informative spring break. That said, I am quite jealous of my peers. I’m attempting to use this feeling to fuel a new vigor in my school work and research.

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